My day started normally after a Mother’s Day, appreciating some of the most important things in life: getting a good night’s sleep and appreciating the woman who raised me. As Drake once eloquently put it:
“I only love my bed and my mom, I’m sorry”
However, that delightful morning of solely appreciating those 2 things came to an abrupt end with one Schefter tweet. Colts fans like myself this morning got a notification that gave them a mix of good news and bad news. Bad news first: In all likelihood, Sam Tevi or Julien Davenport will be the starting Colts Left Tackle for week 1 of the 2021 season…
*Cue the groans and the
However, that Schefter tweet came with good news: at some point in the year, Tevi/Davenport won’t be the starting LT, Eric Fisher will be. We don’t know for sure where or when it will be, but it will happen (health permitting). Exhale Colts Nation.
The 30-year-old former Chief signed a 1 year, $9.4 million deal with the Colts. He will have just 1-year post Achilles injury to prove that he can bounce back from it for the Colts and be retained after he impresses. His injury has been well documented (ironically occurring on the same day as the new Colts 2nd round DL Dayo Odeyingbo’s Achilles injury on January 24th, 2021). The timeline is 9-12 months for most athletes. That means he could return at best case very early in the year (perhaps even week 1), or at worst case by January (mid-playoffs). Even after he recovers, he needs to maintain/recover game shape, knock off the rust, and regain trust and explosiveness from his leg. There is no guarantee how good he will be after this major injury. Hate to be a downer, but just stating the facts of the matter as honestly as I can.
However, it isn’t all doom and gloom. It sounds like the medical check during his visit went well, so it should (barring setbacks) push his timetable to be on the earlier-middle ground range. I would expect Fisher to most likely start the year off on the Physically Unable to Perform (PUP) List, taking him off the active roster for the first 6 weeks of the season and allowing more roster flexibility. However, at week 7, at the earliest, he could play. I would take ~10 weeks of Fisher at LT post-Achilles over Tevi/Davenport for the entire year every time. I do not have any inside information on that timetable or his medicals at this moment, but that is my projection to the best of my ability for realism and expectations.
From the glass half full perspective, Fisher, when healthy or even at 80% effectiveness, is an upgrade at the blindside for the Colts. As I mentioned in my prior Pros and Cons Article on him vs. Charles Leno Jr., Fisher represents the big upside play at LT, especially come playoff time and later in the year. Eric Fisher has been pretty healthy for most of his career and has been a consistently good LT. While not quite living up to his 1st overall pick status from the 2013 Draft, he has been a staple of some really good Chiefs OLs and has developed as the years have gone on. Last year before the Injury was his best year yet by most standards. According to PFF, he allowed 34 pressures, 9 quarterback hits, and 3 sacks on 662 pass-blocking snaps, all career bests. He was awarded an 80 PFF grade and his 2nd Pro Bowl nod for his efforts in 2020 and had the potential to return to that level for the Colts. When healthy, Fisher could be considered an upgrade over longtime Colts LT Anthony Castonzo (based on 2020).
Make no mistake; this move is risky. GM Chris Ballard is taking a gamble on Fisher and on the early season LT’s to hold up enough that it doesn’t hinder the Colts Offense and Carson Wentz. Wentz, in particular, struggled mightily when under constant duress in 2020, but the rest of the Colt’s starting unit are significant upgrades over that Eagles unit. The Colts ranked 2nd in pressures and sacks allowed and 3rd in pressure percentage, and that was with LT Anthony Castonzo missing 4 games last year. The Colts went 2-3 (0-1 in playoffs) when Castonzo didn’t play more than 25% of the snaps with losses to the Steelers, Titans, and Browns. The Colts are good enough to at least beat up on the weaker teams of the NFL without a strong left tackle, but it becomes harder to compete with the playoff tier teams. If they can hover close to .500 without Fisher and he returns in the middle of the season, they could go on a tear for the end of the year to make the playoffs. Should Fisher not only rebound but return to a level that was even better than Castonzo, the Colts could have EVEN BETTER protection in 2021 than 2020. After the first round and early-round 2 of the draft, this was perhaps the only move that could lay that claim.
Meanwhile, until Fisher’s return, Colts coach Frank Reich can do things schematically that can help ease the left side protection. The RPOs of the 2018 Colts O will return with athletic Wentz under center. Doyle and Mo Alie Cox can chip block a ton on the left side. They could employ rollouts to the right side and mobile pockets to keep away from the blindside rush. They can emphasize quicker passing, similar to what they did for Philip Rivers (who, despite an unorthodox throwing motion, was a quick processor and had a fast release). They could even pound opposing defenses into submission with Jonathan Taylor, Nyhiem Hines, Marlon Mack, and Jordan Wilkins on the ground with the rushing attack. Expect these types of plans with a few signature Reich wrinkles to be staples of the Colts O throughout the season, but especially early. The playbook will be a bit more limited because of that weakness in the blindside protection, but it can be adjusted and accounted for schematically. Whether these adjustments will be successful against strong teams and coaches is to be determined, but it isn’t an insurmountable issue.
The risk is apparent, as is the potential reward. For now, the Colts fanbase can breathe a little bit; the search for an LT is finally over for 2021. Ballard certainly stressed us out in the order of addressing his needs, but they have been addressed. Fisher’s recovery will be monitored closely by the team and the fanbase, and look for the Colts to adjust their game plans accordingly in the meantime. However, we can rest easy knowing we aren’t stuck for the whole season with the Tevi/Davenport duo at the vital LT spot. Take some deep breaths, stay positive, get that blood pressure lowered. Our beloved Colts will be fine. I want to think that Carson Wentz will also sleep easier with a new Pro Bowl-caliber LT to protect him as well. Life is good here in Indy rn. Let’s all get back to appreciating it.